Every year, districts and school systems set their eyes on a student enrollment target. Enrollment projections drive downstream budgets for school staffing and special programs, making this target a crucial goal to hit. While there are many layers to boosting enrollment, school systems that take a strategic enrollment management approach include a focus on engaging families and their community at large in recruitment efforts.
We are impressed with the framework developed by our partner, Lyman Millard and the Bloomwell Group. Their framework offers tactics to help expand your recruitment efforts and hit your enrollment targets.
Start with a (marketing) plan
The first step is to determine how many students you need to engage in order to meet your established enrollment goals. Build a funnel and work from bottom to top. Schools should generate two inquiries for every one child they want to show up next year.
While it’s good to determine how many families you need to reach at each stage of the funnel to hit your enrolment goal, it’s important to realize that families are moving through an emotional decision making process as they move through your funnel.
That process includes AWARENESS > EDUCATION > DISCERNMENT > POST-DECISION
When creating your marketing flyers and content, think through how you might engage families at each stage of the process. Align your messaging to clearly communicate your school’s value.
Your marketing toolbox should help move families through this process. Flyers should be simple, engaging and communicate your core message. Your website should build on that message by highlighting your points of differentiation. Offer an in-person tour or recruitment event to bring parents to your school so they experience first hand your culture and unique philosophy. Keep the communication consistent even after the decision is made so families feel welcomed, valued and excited about their choice.
Build your marketing and outreach plan with these ideas in mind:
Engage friends and family of current students to share and evangelize their experience.
Engage your community, partners, and organizations to help spread your message.
Embrace canvassing, flyers, and direct mailing to help build awareness.
Build a credible website, school finder, and online presence to communicate your brand.
Test digital marketing practices such as online ads, social media and email to amplify your message and build your funnel.
Engage your staff and families
With your marketing plan in-hand, the Bloomwell Group recommends an ‘Inside out Approach’ to execution. Start with your inner circle, your school’s friends and family. Determine what marketing tools and tactics work best to reach and engage this inner circle first.
Ask your current families, teachers, and members why they chose you, what they find most valuable about the school system. Use their feedback to develop your message. Give families swag, t-shirts, hats, mugs, anything they can take to the community at large and help evangelize your school. Before sending out flyers or postcards, send them home with students to get feedback from families. Send a newsletter or letter home to celebrate big wins and keep families engaged and proud of what’s happening at school. Ask for guidance on creative, image choices, and positioning. Listen to what they have to say. This is your target audience so learn what resonates best with them.
Create an ambassador program for your most engaged family members, ask them to participate in recruitment events, run staffing tables, or be apart of your canvassing team. Let them share their voice and authentic experience with the community on your behalf.
Once you’ve done the work to really understand and engage this inner circle, your next move is to optimize your plan, ramp up what’s working and expand your marketing efforts to outer circles, including your community, and city.
Engage your communities
Expanding your plan to the community at large requires that you get to know who is in your community. Identify potential partners that can help spread your message. Look for neighboring preschools, community centers, churches, or local businesses that are aligned with families and community events. While you can start this research on-line, you’re going to need to hit the streets, visit these establishments, get to know the people and start to build relationships.
To help prioritize your community outreach plan, create a scoring system and assign each organization in your community list a score from 1 to 4. Bloomberg partners recommends looking at these three critical factors:
Proximity to your school
Size of the business or how many kids they serve
Quality or influence of their organization within the community
Start at the top of your list and build an outreach plan. Identify the decision maker or key contacts within the organization and how best to engage. Can you network your way to connection or do you approach with a cold-call, an email, or just show-up and introduce yourself? In every circumstance, your goal is to develop a relationship with this organization. Your approach should be around how your school can help, or be a resource. It’s important to note that relationship building takes time and effort and requires more than one visit, phone call, or email. Give time to your top priority organizations in order to really see the impact of a quality community relationship.
Expand recruiting with digital marketing & canvassing
You’ve worked to build evangelists within your inner circle of families and school friends and you’ve built quality relationships that will bring awareness to new families in the community. Your next step is to amplify your message and reach across your city. The best tools to test will be in digital form and also a feet-to-the-street canvassing plan.
Email is a great tactic to have in your arsenal. Short, personalized messages resonate best. Be sure to include a link to a unique enrollment page in every email so you’re offering more information and next steps for people who are interested. Of course, tracking conversions and ongoing testing will be key for improving results from email marketing. Start your list with current families, alumni, community members and previous applicants. Also offer an opt-in for newsletters on your website so you can keep in touch with interested families as they move through the decision making process.
Social media is another tactic that can help expand your reach. Know who your audience is and determine what platform will give you the best opportunity to engage. Whether you choose to keep social an organic effort or test advertising will depend on your budget.
Social advertising options on Facebook offer advanced targeting capabilities, which help ensure you’re reaching the right people. Your facebook gameplan can include a mix of organic posts, boosted posts and retargeted ads. For the best results, make sure to track conversions from your advertising efforts and consider running A/B tests of your ad copy across different audiences.
Direct mail postcards can still be a powerful tactic when amplified with canvassing efforts. Take your mailing list to the streets and see if the impact of canvassing door-to-door a few days after your direct mailing piece is delivered helps your audience make a better connection with your school. Engage your ambassadors, alumni and volunteers for canvassing efforts. They’ll be more authentic in their approach. Send teams out in pairs, wearing your school t-shirt, and with leave-behind flyers. If you’re looking to simplify this process, try testing the ecanvasser app for more efficiency.
Putting it all together
Successful student recruitment is a lot of work, and an ongoing process. Having a solid message that resonates with your families is the first step. Followed by a plan to amplify that message into your broader community and expanded city. Having a testing mindset will help you optimize marketing performance and build on what’s working. Your marketing and outreach efforts should build momentum and excitement around ‘the visit’. Getting families to visit your school is your opportunity to shine, give them the information they need to make an informed decision and a reason to say ‘yes’ to your school.
SchoolMint is helping school systems meet enrollment targets by transforming their complete enrollment experience. Through effective marketing and outreach, schools and districts build their brands, communicate available programs and choice options with ease, and engage families throughout the enrollment process.
A big thank you to our partner Lyman Millard and the Bloomwell Group for providing their insight and lessons learned for better student recruitment efforts. Find additional details around this student recruitment framework here.